My friend, Patty, called me this morning to ask how I was feeling. I told her, “Well, I can breathe through my nose, my Eustachian tubes are about 90 percent unclogged from my allergy stuff, I can run around, and nothing hurts – so I’m good.” We both laughed. We were just both so grateful for our parts still working and for the opportunities that go with that.
Finding joy in life is not terribly difficult, but it is a learned skill. First off, being in a state of joy is not the same thing as being happy. Joy is more of a deep and profound type of feeling. Secondly, joy is not innate. You are not born with it – it’s learned.
Some of you have a tougher time acquiring this skill because you were raised in harsh or negative families. However, it’s still possible for you to learn – it’s just harder.
One of the first things you need to do to be joyful is to change the way you talk to yourself. You need to take all that negative-speak going on in your mind (e.g. “I suck,” “I’m terrible,” “I should have never done ___”) quite seriously. You may flippantly say, “I suck,” but you are really hurting yourself deeply on the inside. Stop the negative self-talk, and instead, replace it with the phrase, “I could be doing ___.” By giving yourself some leeway, you’ll have choices and flexibility. These statements give you room to explore and not feel so bad about yourself. Tearing yourself down is not motivating. By saying, “I could have made another choice and the next time I will,” you’re going to provide yourself with a lot more opportunity.
Another thing you can do to experience more joy is to have at least one big laugh each day. It has been proven that laughter makes you feel better and reduces stress. Laughter makes hormones that boost immunity and creates beta-endorphins that stave off depression. Moreover, laughing every day is not all that difficult. There are copious amounts of things to laugh about: funny articles, comic strips, movies, hilarious memories, etc.
Another tip: try absorbing nature. Focus your attention on your natural surroundings. If you do something as simple as examining a plant leaf by leaf, you’ll improve your attention and begin finding joy in the every day.
Now just to be clear: I’m not saying that you should gloss over the negative, ignore painful emotions, or pretend that everything is OK. What I am saying is that you should be moving forward and trying to be flexible. Paying attention and practicing gratitude gives you some peace.
It’s hard, no doubt about it. But just because something is “hard” doesn’t mean it should stop you.
Every day I put up a question at Facebook.com/DrLaura. Recently, I asked, “What’s your secret for remaining joyful even in the midst of tough times?” Here are two of the responses:
Last night I was reminded of this as we were traveling down I-5 with our three kids under 4. They had colds and were coughing constantly while trying to drift off to sleep. We were well on our way and had already stopped three times to accommodate the needs of everyone. My oldest son, 4, started coughing harder and harder in a sleepy daze when he started vomiting.
Ugh! I was so tired – my husband and I had been on a nonstop agenda for weeks and we wanted to escape for a peaceful early Thanksgiving break with family, but now this happened. I know both my husband and I could have very easily argued and been stressed, but I grabbed a blanket, caught all the upchuck, and snapped at my husband desperately, “Pull over!!!” He didn’t want to because of the small shoulder on the road, but he did anyway. Barefoot and now smelly, I got out and assisted my son. Together, my husband and I worked to switch out the car seat, wipe him down, and change his clothes, and we were back on the road 15 minutes later.
Four minutes after that, the rain started. We both looked at each other and laughed thinking the same thing, “Well, at least we missed the rain!”
Although it was supposed to be a relaxing vacation, we found joy in the midst of the unexpected, unplanned interruptions of the journey. My husband offered me his hand and said, “That was good teamwork.”
Now, they certainly have a good marriage. And here is Deborah’s response:
As the parent of a soldier killed in Iraq, for a while joy didn’t seem to fit my vocabulary or mindset, but with time and meditation, I knew the only way to feel joy again and to honor our son and all those who have sacrificed for our country was to dwell on how they lived, not on how they died, and to let our son’s humor, leadership, and love of family and friends shine as best as I could through myself.
I also choose not to keep company for very long with family or acquaintances who thrive on negative thoughts and attitudes. As our son did, I find ways to serve others, which brings much joy. I surround myself with words of positive thoughts by way of motivational books and framed motivational thoughts in each room of my home. As a person who deals with depression, “changing the way I think, speak, or do to the positive” helps keep me balanced with a heart of joy.